Bootstrap Conservation

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Published on: Apr. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

Bonebrake, Earthways and Oxbow. If you lump all three names together you might think you stumbled into a history book of 19th century political slang: Carpetbaggers, Boodlers, Mugwumps and Bonebrakes? Not a bad guess, but the only thing they have in common with old political labeling is that they sprung up in their communities due to grass roots support.

The Bonebrake Center for Nature and History, named for the family who donated the house and land, is in Salem. The Earthways Home is a large brick house in St. Louis, restored to help teach people how dwellings can be made highly energy-efficient. The Oxbow Lake and Nature Trail lies just south of Bethel near the North River - an outdoor classroom and trail serving a neighboring rural school.

While physically and geographically remote from each other, these three areas have something in common: each one is a stellar example of a community-based place where local residents can learn about conservation and their outdoor environment.

Salem's Center for nature and History

Two blocks from the Dent County courthouse in Salem, there stands a formidable two-story, white house built in the 1880s. In June 1988, a group of Salem-area residents proposed a plan to turn the house and surrounding 12 acres, located at 601 N. Hickory, into a community education center. The owners of the property, descendants of the Bonebrake family, approved the plan the following year and donated the house and land to the then-recently incorporated Bonebrake-McMurtrey Foundation, which operates the Center. From the start, the Bonebrake family's generosity has been complemented by volunteers' energy and commitment. An outdoor educational and historical centerpiece for the Salem community was born.

From the back steps of the house, a natural yard sweeps down the hill to a spring-fed pond. An overlook, boardwalk and soft trails mowed through the prairie grass lead visitors on an easy hike through 12 acres and several changing habitats. One trail winds over a frog-filled creek, along the edge of a grove of young pine trees and through blooming prairie flowers to the shade of an oak tree with a girth of about two and one-half feet. The Bonebrake Center for Nature and History is a peaceful, natural oasis in the heart of a busy town.

Peaceful, that is, until 45 kids charge over from the neighboring junior high school for an outdoor biology class. Or 20 toddlers arrive - all at once - for a

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